Electronic fuel injection birthed these unlikely turbocharged heroes
Reliable electronic fuel injection systems delivered production turbocharging from its carbureted and high-maintenance past into a great first wave of turbocharged production cars in the ’80s and ’90s. The turbocharged engine became reliable enough for impressive performance in the usual heavy hitters, obscure sleepers, and an array of regular production cars and trucks. Turbocharged station wagons, compact hatchbacks, and even minivans were proof that boost was at last ready for the masses.
Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Grand Voyager
Turbocharged minivan. These two previously disparate words were inexorably associated in 1989 when the Chrysler Corporation fused a 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder together with the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager, and creating the first turbo-equipped minivan. Ordering up either van with the Special Turbo Discount Package brought a 2.5-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine good for 150 horsepower and 180 lb-ft of torque. The long-stroke version of the Chrysler 2.2-liter turbo engine, built in Trenton, New Jersey, featured dual balance shafts, multiport electronic fuel injection, and stainless steel exhaust.
The 2.5-liter turbo responded well to modifications and enterprising turbo minivan drivers wicked up performance with manual boost controllers, giant intercoolers, rising rate fuel pressure regulators, oscillation overthrusters, erm…extra fuel injectors, and parts swaps from the Chrysler turbo portfolio for front-tire-smoking minivan glory. One of the more famous videos of the Dot Com 1 era came from Turbovan. Patiently downloading at 56K and eventually watching a postage stamp size video of a 1989 Dodge Caravan SE turbo minivan handing it to Camaros and Mustangs at the drag strip was proof that the Special Turbo Discount Package, genuine simulated wood paneling, and extra boost, were a winning combination.
1989 Pontiac 20th Anniversary Turbo Trans Am
Pontiac drove down the turbo Trans Am road before with its carbureted and turbocharged 4.9-liter V-8 second-generation Firebird and the division braintrust stepped things up for the 20th year of the Trans Am. Pontiac reached into the GM performance well and created a Firebird version of the turbocharged 3.8-liter Buick V-6, backed it up with a turbo-calibrated four-speed automatic transmission, and launched the 1989 Pontiac 20th Anniversary Turbo Trans Am or TTA.
With electronic sequential fuel injection, aluminum intake manifold, roller rockers, cross-drilled crankshaft, Direct Fire electronic ignition with spark control, stainless steel tube headers, a Garrett T3 turbocharger with electronic wastegate boost controller and stonkin’ intercooler flowing air a 16.5 psi, the Pontiac TTA V-6 was rated at 250 horsepower on paper in adherence to the GM corporate performance 1st Commandment: Thou shalt not produce more power than the Corvette. Real-world performance was over 300 horsepower.
Goodyear Eagle ZR50 Gatorback tires on 16×8 inch mesh wheels helped the Pontiac TTA click off a 13.50-second quarter mile and hold 0.86 g on the skidpad. Police specification vented 12-inch front discs and dual-piston Corvette calipers scrubbed 60 mph to a stop in 139 feet.
Unlike factory race-prepared ringers that preceded it around the Brickyard, the 1989 Turbo Trans-Am was the first Official Pace Car to lead the Indianapolis 500 racing pack in showroom stock trim.
Pocket rockets: Dodge Colt Turbo
Before the Mopar Mitsubishi marriage spawned turbocharged brand mashup hits like the box-fendered widebody Chrysler Conquest/Mitsubishi Starion, Dodge Stealth/Mitsubishi 3000GT, and Eagle Talon/Plymouth Laser/Mitsubishi Eclipse, there was the 1984 Dodge Colt GTS Turbo, aka Mitsubishi Mirage. The boosted econobox was the first in three successive generations of front-wheel drive Dodge Colt hot-hatch turbos.
The 102-hp turbocharged 1.6-liter SOHC four-cylinder joined front and rear anti-sway bars for crisp performance from the 1850-pound hatchback and the Twin Stick dual-range four-speed transmission promised power or economy. The redesigned 1986–88 Dodge Colt featured maximum ’80s ground effect body cladding, rear hatch spoiler, and turbine-style wheels powered by a similar 102-hp 1.6-liter TBI turbo four-cylinder. A standard five-speed manual replaced the Twin-Stick.
The last of the Dodge Colt turbo hatches was equipped with the dual overhead camshaft multipoint fuel injected 1.6-liter 4G63 engine good for 135 horsepower in stock trim. Angular Eighties styling gave way to a curvilinear wraparound aerodynamic body on 14-inch turbine styled wheels. Low production numbers put the 6th and last generation of Dodge Colt turbo hatchback into near-mythical category. Spotted in the mid-2000s this Dodge Colt turbo was an apparent victim of turbocharged performance and front-wheel drive understeer.
Carbureted and turbocharged Mustangs and Capris begat the fuel-injected 2.3-liter turbo Mustang SVO, Thunderbird Turbo coupe, and—what could have been a contender when the European Ford Sierra XR4i was relieved of its Cologne V-6, given the 2.3-liter turbo treatment, and sold stateside—the Merkur XR4Ti. The front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, German-built XR4Ti was christened Merkur, or German for Mercury, and American dealers hung out Merkur beacons for 1985 with a 20,000-unit sales target. The turbocharged SOHC 2.3-liter cylinder engine was good for 175 horsepower on 12–14 pounds of boost in five-speed manual transmission configuration.
The three-door aerodynamic body featured flush-mount glass, lower body cladding, and signature bi-level rear wing. Fully independent front strut and rear trailing arm suspension and 14-inch wheels with Pirelli tires made for modern handling. In the ‘70s Ford asked buyers to compare its Granada and Mercury Monarch to European cars. The Merkur XR4Ti actually was a European car but the turbocharged performance, advanced engineering, and over 850 different parts that set the Merkur apart from its European counterpart were not enough. Sales did not meet expectations and 1989 was the last year for the Merkur XR4Ti. The sure-fire way to remember the mixed-case alphanumeric model name is all caps to T for TURBO then lowercase injection.
Triple threat: GMC Syclone
Factory equipped with the exalted triumvirate of fuel injection, turbocharging, and full-time all-wheel drive, the GMC Syclone pickup hauled all the knowledge and power of the great Eighties turbocharged revolution into the Nineties. With 280 horsepower at 4400 rpm and 350 lb-ft of torque at 3600 rpm on tap from its multiport-fuel-injected 4.3-liter Vortec V-6, the 1991 GMC Syclone held the title of the fastest production pickup truck.
Insta-Trac all-wheel drive was tuned for a 35-percent front bias with the balance of power channeled out to the limited-slip rear axle. Functional urethane aerodynamic body cladding, dropped height front torsion bars, two-stage rear springs, Bilstein dampers, stabilizer bars, and turbine-styled 16×8-inch aluminum alloy wheels with 245/50 tires worked together to keep the Syclone planted on the pavement. The intercooler was joined by heavy-duty radiator, and fluid coolers for both the engine oil and four-speed automatic transmission. It worked. Autoweek extracted a 4.6-second 0–60 mph launch and 13.4-second quarter-mile run at 103 mph from a production Syclone.
Bolstered bucket seats with red piping and Syclone logo embroidered headrests joined a center shift console with two cup holders in the loaded interior. The 50-state legal GMC Syclone touted a low maintenance schedule with no required adjustments for idle speed or air-fuel mixtures so that woeful quasi-electronic carburetors and throttle body injection systems could be well and truly forgotten. The Syclone could haul 500 pounds of cargo under the factory issue soft tonneau cover and the ultra high-performance pickup spawned the equally impractical and entertaining GMC Typhoon turbo sport utility vehicle.